You seldom come across something so inspired to haunt you day in, day out. Badland is one of such things. An iOS game that manages to combine a great deal of gaming tropes into a package that is at the same time hauntingly familiar and completely original.
In Badland, you guide a bizarre afro hairdo (or an owl?) through a selection of weird landscapes loaded with circular saws, explosives, strange sticky goo and other dangers that you must steer your protagonist clear of. The gameplay is simple: by tapping the screen you can make your little ball of fur fly or roll through surfaces. That’s about it. The game is loaded with various hazards and power-ups, the favorite of mine being the squaring teleports that somehow remind me of a classic Carl Barks Donald Duck tale.
The game combines, by intention or not, elements from such awesome predecessors as Contre Jour, World of Goo and Portal, managing to create at least as enchanting a gaming experience, if not even better. You feel for your little afro hairdo just as you do for your little balls of goo. The design aesthetic is reminiscent not only of Portal, but also somehow of other Valve titles such as the first Half-Life. And the squishy poison bushes, as well as the black-and-whitish color scheme bring to mind the outstanding moodiness of Contre Jour.
But while influences can be singled out, the game plays out as something completely original. A cross between a platformer and an infinite runner, the gameplay is fluid and enticing, yet challenging enough to keep things interesting. Some of the puzzles are really troublesome at first, but then produce that delightful heureka insight once you figure out some new element in the environment to tap into. In fact, I think Badland is flow-wise the best balanced game I have played since Psychonauts.
Badland is a game that I would recommend to anybody keen on the titles referenced above; to anybody tapping into tablet gaming for the first time; to anybody looking for moody, deep and challenging casual gaming (almost a paradox, yes, but they nailed it here); I guess to anybody, period.
This is a truly inspired game that has the feel of being produced by a big studio, and yet is the work of a Finnish duo, augmented with an outstanding sound designer. The international media has been wondering what they feed the Finnish game-makers to produce such outstanding titles. I am starting to wonder too.
Check out the game here.